Niagara Gazette — BUFFALO — State prosecutors have dropped some charges and made changes to the indictment in the public corruption case against Town of Niagara Supervisor Steven Richards.
Assistant Attorney General Diane LaValle told State Supreme Court Justice Christopher Burns during a hearing Wednesday that her office was voluntarily withdrawing three charges from the 28-count indictment against Richards.
“We concede the three counts are past the statute of limitations,” LaValle told the judge.
She also said that Richards’ defense team had agreed to allow her office to “amend” the indictment “to specify (that Richards’ crimes) took place in the Town of Niagara and County of Niagara.”
Defense attorney Rodney Personius had previously suggested that the indictment against his client needed to be dismissed because it failed to indicate where in New York state Richards’ crimes occurred.
But that is where the agreements between the defense and prosecutors stopped.
Personius also asked Burns to dismiss 14 more charges in the indictment, arguing that some of them were also past the statute of limitations and that other claims failed to meet the legal definitions of a crime.
The 18-year town supervisor has entered not guilty pleas to four felony counts and 24 misdemeanor charges contained in the indictment. They include one count of defrauding the government, two counts of fourth-degree grand larceny, one count of fourth-degree criminal possession of stolen property, 11 counts of petit larceny and 13 counts of official misconduct.
The indictment charges that, beginning in 2001, Richards engaged in a scheme to steal goods and use town resources for his own personal benefit. Among the claims are allegations that he directed town employees to pick up and deliver property to his personal business, clean a clogged drain at his personal business, and connect a storm drain, at a residential rental property he owns, to a state storm water line.
Investigators charge that all of that work involved the use of town equipment and employees who were working on town time.
Richards is also accused of stealing numerous industrial supplies belonging to the town, including paint, drain cleaner, a drill and a generator. He is also accused of taking a shotgun from the town police department.
In the case of the shotgun, Personius said Richards was accused of taking that in 2001, nine years before a change in state law made that a crime.
LaValle shot back that, in statements made to investigators from the Attorney General’s Office and the FBI, Richards admitted he knew his actions were breaking the law.
“He had knowledge, and a sense, that he was doing something wrong,” LaValle told Burns. “He said to the FBI he knew he shouldn’t have had the shotgun and the generator. And he returned them when asked about them by the FBI.”
Personius also questioned prosecutors claims, and a charge, that Richards had “a scheme” to defraud town taxpayers. He noted that the indictment indicates crimes occurred in 2002, 2005, 2007, 2010 and 2012.
“It’s over view (with the gaps of years in between) that is not a scheme or pattern,” Personius said. “Those are isolated acts.”
“You’re saying it’s so disjointed, it couldn’t be a fluid scheme,” Burns asked.
“Yes,” Personius replied.
The veteran defense lawyer also asked Burns for permission to review the minutes of the grand jury that indicted Richards. The judge said he had already reviewed the grand jury transcript to make sure its actions were proper.
“If I need your help,” Burns said with a smile to Personius, “I’ll let you know.”
Burns reserved his decision on all of Personius’ requests.
The Buffalo-based judge is now hearing the Richards case after fellow State Supreme Court Justice Richard Kloch Sr., who works in Lockport, removed himself.
A source close to the case has suggested that the attorney general’s office sought Kloch’s removal. A spokesperson for Attorney General Attorney General Eric Schneiderman refused to answer questions about Kloch’s removal.
“We have no comment on that,” Deputy Press Secretary Casey Aguglia told the Gazette.
Richards’ attorneys have also declined to comment on the matter.